Medical marijuana edibles are attractive to some pets

Although it’s not very common to see dogs suffering from marijuana intoxication, we dealt with two such cases in one day last week. I took that as a sign that it was time to discuss the topic.

In one case, a 6-pound dog had ingested two chocolate chip and pot cookies 10 hours before calling us. The other case was a 50-pound pointer that had eaten one pot cookie the night before we saw him. The owners of both pets were forthcoming with information about what their pets ingested, which was very helpful.

Clinical Signs: The active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (usually called THC), can cause loss of coordination, restlessness or sedation, dilated pupils, and slowed heart rate and breathing. Occasionally, the pet may lose bladder control. Clinical signs usually begin 30-90 minutes after ingestion.

Diagnosis: Often the owner is aware that the pet has ingested pot. If the owner is not sure or is not willing to provide information, a urine test can confirm suspicions.

Treatment: If the pet presents within 30 minutes of consumption, the vet may try to induce vomiting. Because pot actually reduces the inclination to vomit, attempts to induce are not always successful. Also, if the pet is very sedated, vomiting is not desirable, as stomach contents can end up in the lungs. If up to a few hours have passed, activated charcoal introduced into the stomach can begin to absorb the toxins in the GI tract and reduce clinical signs. If several hours have passed, treatment is based on symptoms: usually IV fluids are given, along with careful observation to ensure the pet’s safety and no worsening of clinical signs.

Prevention: Clearly, all items that contain marijuana should be kept out of the reach of household pets. Should accidental consumption occur, it is very important to be honest with the vet about what the pet has consumed. THC toxicity is not frequently fatal; but it can be dangerous.

Prognosis in our Cases: In the case of the small, vomiting dog, the owners called us to find out what to do. They were not interested in an office visit, particularly after our recommendation that the dog be hospitalized, with fluid therapy and observation. This is unfortunate, since he was a very small dog to have ingested a relatively large amount of both pot and chocolate compared to his body weight. In fact, the vomiting in this dog was most likely a reaction to the chocolate chips, which compounded his problems and made treatment all the more desirable.

In the second case, the dog had got a cookie out of the suitcase of an overnight guest, unbeknownst to both the owners of the dog and the owner of the suitcase. The dog had behaved strangely the night before and, in the morning, vomited up the plastic bag the cookie came in. The humans managed to figure out what had happened and make an appointment to get the dog checked out. By the time the dog was examined in our clinic, he was physically and behaviorally normal; all effects from the marijuana had worn off.

With the increase in prescriptions for medical marijuana, its steady popularity as a recreational drug, and the easy access humans have to tasty “edibles,” it’s no wonder vets see pets that have ingested pot. A combination of awareness of the dangers and prevention of a pet’s exposure to the substance are key to preventing a medical emergency.